The Difference Between a Community Manager and a Social Media Manager

Not all social media roles are created equal. The lines between the roles of community managers versus social media managers often get blurred. Many organizations use the terms interchangeably and assume that a social media manager will manage community and that a community manager will be strategic in social media. That isn’t always the case.

For the sake of your career and clarity, it is important to understand the distinct responsibilities and the metrics that you pay attention to as a community manager or a social media manager. I chatted with Brea Watts, freelance community manager for women-owned small businesses and former community manager at Blackberry about the distinct differences in these roles.

A social media manager is focused more on the logistics of the various brand channels. They manage the content calendar, write copy, schedule posts, and often oversee the creation of digital assets like photos and videos. They keep the channels afloat by constantly creating and curating content while also developing strategies for growth. Community management however, is about building relationships and human insight.

A community manager is often the humanizing face of the brand in the digital space and the internal advocate for customers. They are responsible for building and nurturing relationships with key members and facilitating engagement with their community. Social listening and monitoring is an important part of their job as they funnel information internally from blogs, forums, and various social media platforms.

Simply put, a social media manager creates the content to attract and build your community, while a community manager finds the right people to target and engage with. Both roles have overlapping responsibilities when it comes to providing customer service and interacting with customers, but they interact for different reasons.

Analytics for Social Media Managers vs. Community Managers

The social media managers’ main goal is channel growth. Community managers focus on engagement. There are different metrics that matter to each. A social media manager measures success by how much content is published, how people engage with it, what kind of content performs best and what fuels the increase in followers. Community managers focus on earned media and word of mouth. They do this by keeping influencers and potential customers engaged, welcoming new audience members into their communities, and expanding the brand’s visibility through guest posts and opportunities like Twitter chats.

Through these on-going conversations, community managers can get a sense of what the sentiment is around their product, service, or brand in general. In order to be successful as a community manager, you need to keep track of the small wins and let them accumulate overtime. A tweet, an Instagram comment, a message on Facebook, a comment on a blog or forum, a conversation about your brand are all ways to track success in your role. While a social media manager tracks things like changes in numerical data, a community manager is more focused on qualitative data like sentiment and the quality of their engagement. They find meaningful human interaction just as important as the volume of engagements they receive. They work on making inferences about why their customers are happy so that they can replicate those efforts for their ideal customers and new markets.

Here at SumAll I try to fulfill both roles, and I’ll be honest – I struggle. It’s hard to figure out where to focus your efforts when you’re trying to balance between creating content and managing community. What I have learned, however, is that both roles cannot be ignored. They’re both vital to the organization and vital to your customers. I am learning new ways to organize both workflows and make sure that I’m paying as much attention to the quality of the engagement as I am to the number of engagements.

I want to hear your thoughts. Are you a community manager or social media manager? Have you been struggling with fulfilling both roles for your organization? Are these roles separate or are they done by one person? Let me know in the comments below or you can tweet us @SumAll.

19 thoughts on “The Difference Between a Community Manager and a Social Media Manager

  • Great read Emmelie, From experience I’ve also found that in addition many also perform Marketing duties as another layer of responsibility. e.g. Run marketing campaigns on behalf of the marketing teams because they have the relationship with the audience as Community Managers yet the platform & content understanding of Social Media Managers.

  • Interesting article that looks at a real issue for Social Media marketing as a whole. In theory, every business needs both roles. Whereas in reality, many small businesses who see social media as a free marketing tool simply do not have the budget or interest in separating the roles. The result is some poor soul struggling to fulfil both roles at the same time, and often failing. The problem is exacerbated when businesses then proceed to give the roles to juniors, interns or even volunteers while expecting magical results. It is no surprise that many small businesses have wrongly come to believe that social media is not effective for their business. Thanks again.

  • Interesting article. I work for a company that has a Social Media Manager; however, this individual does not understand our market or our brand. While I do not have the title Community manager, I have been functioning in that role in addition to my other role. It has been frustrating since the management of the company and Social Media Manager do not understand the importance or benefits of a Community Manager.

  • Great article; I was the community SM manager for a non profit that had to build relationships with other non profits, so I was always uniting them together on the page, along with doing all the social media stuff as well. It was a community partnership that had to be developed. Worked on it for 7 months, with a starting fan base of 325, and went to 1500. We also brought in a web designer and brought in a new look with the website. Better relationships= trust= community. Thanks for the article!

  • Insightful writ up Emmelie. Like you said, having to joggle both roles is quite challenging. However, I have been able to manage both roles (Social Media Manager and Community Manager) together for the Mobile App Start up Company I work for. Consequently, I grew the Facebook fan base from about 4200 (a combination of both organic likes and likes from paid ads) to 9120 in 3 months with majority of the increment being organic likes. Via social listening, I created strategies that drove engagements across our platforms. I created and curated contents, managed the community, update weekly analytics (we have a spreadsheet for collecting data weekly to help us better understand what is working). Although, to be candid, the little issue I experience is that my response time (time to respond to comments and enquiries) is good but not yet great because of the many things I had to do. Working on improving it though. One thing I will point out like Cora said is to have great team of Graphics Designer and Web Developers to work with. I had these two working for me. Hence, putting glamour to my job. I hope this was helpful.

    • This is awesome! Thank you for sharing. Response time is something that I struggle with too. I try to carve out a few minutes at the beginning, middle and end of the day to get through all the comments and mentions on social media. It helps to build relationships and keep the community engaged. I try to leave no comment behind. 🙂
      Social Media Marketing Manager | SumAll

      +1 646 202 3145

      • Thank you Emmelie, Sometimes, I get to respond the following day because of the multi-tasking requirements. Do you get to respond to ALL comments daily consistently or there were days you faulted? Can I send you a mail or can we connect on Facebook? Thanks

    • Thanks for sharing your experience ! I actually don’t have a team of graphic designers ans web dev to work with me full time so things take a little more time…also, the issue I’ve been struggling with is that I work in a small company. As a consequence, social media are not top priority and my superior tend to ask me to do other type of day to day missions( not necessarily related to communication by the way).

  • This is great. I’ve been trying to educate my colleagues (and boss) on how many different ‘roles’ I alone have to be!

      • @Laura, I understand that kind of experience. It can be overwhelming. Just keep at playing your role efficienctly. @Emmelie, your statement on ROI/day to day activities is true. So if I may ask, how do you measure ROI?

  • I technically do both of these but contractors that help me fufil both parts of the roles, I love this job and love seeing both the small achievements and the bigger achievements like getting new clients. If you need help with either of these roles, we hope the be your next option 🙂 –

  • #Tripawds Admins manage our community and social media channels. The duties couldn’t be any more different. The biggest challenge is emotional—coping with those on social media who tend to “like” cute photos and think they’re helping by saying “hugs” while catering to the core of the community who offer real support and helpful feedback.

    Thank you for helping others understand the huge difference between these duties!

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